Ways to Manage Stress
Stress management is a continuous process. It requires active coping or the efforts to master, reduce, or tolerate the demands created by stress. Active coping is direct, healthful, and mindful. Utilize the strategies listed below to create your own stress management program.
Modify lifestyle behavior
Use your everyday routine to set yourself up for stress management success using some of the strategies below:
- Participate in physical activity – Physical activity is known to have positive effects on mental health. Refer back to Getting Started with Physical Activity section to find some examples of activitiesthat may help alleviate stress.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol – Caffeine and alcohol can exacerbate feelings of stress. Instead, opt for decaf coffee, herbal tea, or fruit water.
- Eat balanced meals – Make sure you’re getting the proper amount of vitamins and nutrients. A well balanced diet full of nutrient dense foods can help protect your immune system from a detrimental stress response. Aim to make your plate half fruits and veggies and half protein foods and grains. Variety and moderation are key.
- Get enough sleep – It is recommended that adults get 7-8 hours of sleep. Sleep allows our brains to recharge and our bodies to rest and recover. Don’t neglect your sleep hygiene!
- Manage your time – Procrastination is one of the top causes of stress. Developing good time management skills can help reduce your overall stress.
Adopt the tips below to help you better manage your time.
- Prioritize work
- Set up deadlines
- Delegate tasks
- Learn to say no
- Avoid multitasking
Take some breaks.
Mindfulness is the cornerstone of contemplative practices (i.e. techniques of self-inquiry and explorational learning) and may help to reduce stress. Cultivate mindfulness to nourish, support, and strengthen your stress management practices.
Mindfulness is “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and nonjudgmentally”
– Jon Kabat-Zinn
Components of Mindfulness
As humans, we are quick to label things, people, and experiences that come into our lives. We mark them as “good”, “bad”, or “neutral”. By doing this, we enter autopilot and stop experiencing our lives as is. These judgements eventually dominate our thoughts and make it hard to find peace. You don’t need to stop the judging, but recognize that it is occurring. We practice mindfulness to bring awareness to our patterns, so we can operate with full recognition of every moment and be with whatever arises.
Patience is the working ground of a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness is the ability to focus and re-focus the mind on your breathing and the sensations of the body, to the task at hand. It is not easy to constantly focus on the breath and body and oftentimes our minds will fill up with irrelevant thoughts (e.g., Did I remember to take out the trash? What should I make for dinner?). Don’t feel frustrated or agitated by these natural fluctuations. Be patient with yourself. Don’t judge your fluctuations, but recognize that your mind has wandered and try to bring it back to the present moment by focusing on your breath and sensations of the body. This ability takes time and practice. Allow yourself the grace you deserve as you are still learning.
- Beginner’s mind
We tend to view life from a lens that we have built from past experiences and our beliefs. We let those lenses guide new experiences without first letting that experience bring up what it was meant to bring. We can dilute our experiences by doing this. I invite you to remove your lens and view each moment with fresh eyes and have an attitude of openness. Someone with a “beginner’s mind” is willing to see everything as if for the first time. It allows us to be receptive to new possibilities.
Learn to trust your own experiences, feelings, and intuition without judgement. It is far better to trust your own intuition than to look outside yourself for guidance, even if you make some “mistakes” along the way.
Almost everything we do; we do for a purpose. Assigning purpose to your mindfulness practice can be a real problem. Try not to have any expectations during your mindfulness practice. If you think, “I’m going to be relaxed, or happy” then you are assigning purpose and expecting a certain result. Instead, just be yourself. If you are sad, be sad. If you are tense, feel the tension. Feel all of what is coming up, hold it in awareness, then let it go. Eliminating the restrictiveness of your expectations can be both challenging and liberating.
You must accept yourself and your experiences as they are before you or your experiences can change. Sooner or later we must come to terms with things as they are, whether that be a diagnosis of cancer or learning of someone’s death. Often, acceptance is reached only after we have gone through emotion-filled periods of denial, pain, and anger. Acceptance doesn’t mean you must like everything or take a passive attitude towards everything, but instead accept the present as is- nothing more and nothing less.
- Letting be
Letting be or letting go means non-attachment, an essential foundation of your mindfulness practice. When we start paying attention to our inner thoughts, we discover that there are certain feelings and situations that the mind seems to want to hold on to or even get rid of and prevent yourself from having. With mindfulness, we intentionally put aside the tendency to elevate some aspects of our experience and reject others. Instead, we let our experience be what it is and practice observing it from moment to moment.
Adapted from Kabat-Zinn, J (2004) Full catastrophe living: How to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation and Full catastrophe living (2013 Revised Edition) Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness.
Mindfulness with Feelings
R.A.I.N.E is a mindfulness technique used to work with intense and difficult emotions- big or small
Recognize what you are feeling. Acknowledge what is happening in your body and your mind. You can mentally name the experience if that helps, “I am feeling overwhelmed”.
Accept what you feel. Acknowledge and allow the present moment reality. Allowing doesn’t mean you have to like the situation, but you are accepting what is. What we resist, persists, so let whatever comes, come.
Investigate the feeling further. Mentally ask yourself these questions. Why do I feel the way I do? Are there events that happened ahead of the emotion that might have influenced it? How long does the feeling last? What do I need right now?
Non-identification means that your sense of who you are is not fused with or defined by your thoughts or emotions. Even amidst chaos, part of you can be calm and silent.
This technique can help you gain insight into the root of the feeling, which can enable you to take a different approach to the moment or situation. Each experience is a lesson learned. You do the best you can until you know better, then you do better.
Adapted from Brach, Tara (2013) True Refuge: Finding Peace & Freedom in your own awakened heart